Local photographers share their images and experiences during the fury of Superstorm Sandy
HURRICANE SANDY, THE LARGEST ATLANTIC HURRICANE ON RECORD, WITH WINDS SPANNING 1,100 MILES, DEVASTATED PORTIONS OF THE CARIBBEAN, AS WELL AS THE MID-ATLANTIC AND NORTHEASTERN UNITED STATES.
PRELIMINARY ESTIMATES OF LOSSES ARE AT $65.6 BILLION, WHICH MAKES HURRICANE SANDY SECOND ONLY TO HURRICANE KATRINA AS THE COSTLIEST ATLANTIC HURRICANE IN HISTORY. AT LEAST 253 PEOPLE IN SEVEN COUNTRIES WERE KILLED ALONG THE PATH OF THE STORM.
"The morning of the storm, I was both excited and worried. The surf reports were saying that there was a chance that the winds could switch and create what could possibly be the biggest rideable waves that Ocean City has ever seen. I knew I had a good time window between high tides, so I decided to make a run into town just to see if filming
or surfing later was going to even be possible.
Coming in Route 54, my first concern was that Harpoon Hannah’s was already going under and the road there was in danger of being washed out. This substantially decreased my time frame. Uptown looked good. A couple of beach access points showed signs of surf coming over the dunes earlier but appeared to be holding fine for the moment. Around 18th Street, I hit a police road block. They weren't stopping anybody from passing, but they were also making sure that everybody (me) knew that they weren't going to come help if I got into trouble. It was here that Coastal Highway became completely submerged.
I decided to take the alleys to about 9th Street and then everything went underwater. I parked under a hotel and started to shoot. As I walked out onto the Boardwalk, the first wave slammed over the seawall and almost took me out. Wet and slightly more nervous, I waited to get a pic of the next one. As I walked, there was damage everywhere. The bayside of the highway was underwater. The oceanside was getting pounded by surf. A military vehicle driving through two feet of water stopped me on 5th Street. This time, I was given a "direct order to leave" for my own safety. I assured them that leaving was high on my list of priorities, but neglected to mention that I wasn't doing so until I saw the pier.
So I broke into a jog. I made it to an inlet parking lot that was windswept and surf-pounded, covered with sand and looking like the end of the earth. The pier was already destroyed. I watched two waves clear the railings of the pier, travel up the beach, across the parking lot and empty into the inlet before deciding that it was definitely time to go. I ran the mile back to my car as waves began to crest the seawall with more frequency. At Route 54, where I was most concerned about getting stuck, the water was off the road and I was safe. The winds switched, and surfers Colin Herlihy and Raven Lundy got some of the biggest waves the East Coast has seen. All in all, it could have been a lot worse."
I'm employed as a deputy fire marshal in Worcester County. Like many of my public-safety colleagues, I have a second job; I am a professional photographer. I was assigned to north patrol, the area covering the north end of Worcester County, including Ocean City. My task that day was to provide real-time weather conditions to officials in the emergency operations center in Snow Hill and remain available for any emergency calls for service.
The morning of the storm, I packed a few of my cameras with the hope I would be able to take photographs of my day.
I ventured throughout the West Ocean City and Town of Ocean City areas documenting what I saw. The hours before the storm made landfall were the most surreal. High-water signs littered the streets, and I watched closely as a flood tide inched closer and closer to homes in low-lying areas. The water was higher than I had ever seen it, in areas I’ve never seen it. The only people I passed on roads were police officers, state highway workers, firefighters and the occasional thrill seeker who attempted to use their car as a boat.
The Town of Ocean City closed access south of 62nd Street to the public and evacuated residents south of 18th Street, permitting only public-safety personnel to enter. It was really quite eerie being one of the only people in downtown Ocean City during the storm. Roadways were completely flooded, all kinds of debris, trash cans and Boardwalk benches were littered everywhere. The water had entered many bayside homes and the winds were increasing significantly by the hour. The beach parking lot was covered in sand and the Ocean City fishing pier at some point had collapsed into the ocean. As a safety precaution, the power company shut down electricity to everything south of 11th Street. It was about this time I was alerted to assist the Ocean City Fire Department with calls for service downtown. As a 15-year member of the OCFD, I gladly lent a hand with numerous automatic fire alarm activations, a fuel spill and electrical hazards in the area. After taking a few more photos in the most devastated areas, I overheard police officers on the radio talking about closing the Route 90 Bridge due to high winds. As my shift was coming to an end anyway, I retreated out of the city and made my way to the West Ocean City fire station, where I was able to reunite with standby crews and share the photos I had just taken.
Later that night, I posted these photos to my photography blog and shared the links with family and friends. By the next morning, and thanks to the power of the Internet, I had received messages from scores of news publications like Good Morning America, CNN, WUSA-9, WBAL-TV, as well as all of the local sources wanting to feature my photographs. It was at this point I realized the popularity of my photographs was due to the access I gained as part of my official duties that day.
I have since received countless comments from visitors, locals, property owners and elected officials thanking me for documenting Sandy in Ocean City. It was clear to see that many people, from areas far away, were keeping a sharp eye on Ocean City during the hurricane.
I guess you could say I was just at the right place at the right time to document a part of Ocean City history.
R. CHRIS CLARK
I love to watch Mother Nature at work. Her power is fascinating as she wreaks havoc one moment and delivers stunning beauty the next. One thing is for sure: When Mother Nature decides to serve up a doozy of a storm, I get prepared for adventure.
Hurricane Sandy required me to have the following in my car: five days worth of food, water and changes of warm clothing; two pair of waterproof boots; an extra 25 gallons of fuel in portable containers; wetsuits; foul-weather gear; 300 feet of rope; a shovel; flashlights; life jacket; sleeping bag; first-aid kit; camera gear (including an underwater housing and dry bags); laptop; and a power inverter, to keep all of my electronics fully charged.
I awoke Monday morning as excited as a child on Christmas. I was running around (as I still needed to fill the bathtub with water, shut off the water and kick off the main circuit breaker) when I kicked a piece of furniture. I knew immediately that I had broken at least one and maybe two of the little toes on my left foot. I cursed and then laughed at how silly I must have looked as I taped my toes together and headed out the door.
It was 7 a.m. when I began my search for initial signs of storm damage. High tide was beginning in the Little Assawoman Bay as the storm surge began its march. The inflow was so quick that you could actually watch the water level rise. I was shocked!
I was also shocked by the number of people who were out and about “sightseeing” during the officially declared state of emergency. My press pass allows me the freedom to move about under circumstances such as these; it is my “golden ticket.” I understand that there is a desire to see what is happening, but that is why news agencies have people in the field to provide information such as this. I was a witness to water rushing across Coastal Highway and windblown debris that could have knocked a person unconscious.
Later on Monday, the winds turned and blew from a westerly direction. This meant the beaches and dunes were to be spared and that the bulk of the damage was going to be bayside.
Fenwick Island is the only municipality in the state that is entirely located within the flood plain, so that was where I headed.
En route, I was contacted to do a phone interview with public radio in Philadelphia. I became “the eyes and ears” of their audience. The highlight was that I followed the governor of Delaware, Jack Markell.
Once in Fenwick, I donned my full wetsuit gear and put my camera in the waterproof housing. I trudged through the western ends of the streets at the north end of town, as I knew that was where the water was deeper, because the roads gradually get lower as you travel west. (Growing up in this town afforded me intimate knowledge of its topography.) I know where docks, bulkheads and drainage swales were located, yet each step was carefully calculated, as any
of it could have been washed away.
As darkness settled in, I realized that the best photo opportunity of the storm would be at about 1:30 a.m., the next high tide. I just needed to find a suitable landmark to demonstrate the high-water mark. That is the photo of the Warren’s Station sign.
Tuesday morning, my friend Craig Lambertson and I took out a boat. I wanted to get photos from an angle that people would not readily get to see.
I connected with Maria Counts, one of the reporters from my employer at the Coastal Point, and asked her if she would upload the photos to Facebook as I took them. She named the series “Come Take a Boat Ride Through Fenwick Island.” Fans loved the play-by-play unfolding of the journey through destruction on Little Assawoman Bay. This is the photo of the Grady White boat washed up onshore.
The next Facebook adventure was a walking tour down Dagsboro St., and this time the number of viewers had increased dramatically. The water was waist deep, and the markings on the houses and sign posts showed that the water had been at least a foot deeper during the previous high tide. But this journey was interrupted.
I was contacted to do another interview, this time by the BBC. The only catch was that I had to get to a landline and wait for them to call me. Fortunately, I grew up on this street, and there were friends who did not evacuate, which gave me access to said phone. Unfortunately, I was torn between waiting for the call and getting back to my adventure. So, I went back to my adventure.
Shortly thereafter, I was called back to the phone.
My interview went on the air following a person who was discussing the impact of Sandy on his country, Haiti. I was asked about my experiences and then to weigh in on two additional topics: Why the U.S. seems to get more worldwide media coverage for natural disasters than the rest of the globe and my thoughts on how the media sensationalizes storms.
The second topic immediately took me back to the “sightseers” who were gallivanting around town, and I actually chuckled before I responded.
As they say, things happen in threes, and Brian Russo, a local affiliate for public radio in Washington, D.C, also had me join him for his weekly show, “Coastal Connection.”
This storm gave me the opportunity to expand into different areas of media than I had before, and for that I am grateful!
I do not look forward to the damage that is wrought by natural disasters. But when the next one comes around, I’ll be right in the middle of it, doing what I love, taking photographs.
GRANT L. GURSKY
Anytime a hurricane forms in the Atlantic, the possibility of a strike in our region piques my interest. I know it seems morbid, but the reality is that as a photojournalist, there’s something inherently exciting about covering a hurricane. And, as a contract photographer, my business is directly affected by the effects of Mother Nature.
Hurricane Sandy was my third hurricane on the Eastern Shore but the first that was predicted to make a direct hit somewhere around the Maryland/Delaware line. Planning for the little things makes all the difference when figuring out how you’re going to photograph and document a storm like Sandy. Extra sets of dry clothes, multiple camera bodies and lenses, redundant Internet connectivity for transmission to my daily news clients, a full tank of gas in my vehicle,
food and water in the event I’m stranded somewhere were all priorities when I left my house on the morning of October 29th.
The day started with a press conference with the local and national media at the Public Safety Building at 65th Street in Ocean City. The mayor, city manager and police chief talked tough about the impending storm, as well as the town’s preparations for, and response to, it. A mandatory evacuation was in effect for 17th Street South, and the southern part of the town was closed to the public.
The mayor and police chief were allowing public-safety personnel and members of the news media access to the areas south of 17th Street. The area had become almost completely submerged overnight, when the storm surge was strongest in our area. Even though we were given access to the area, we were warned that we’d be venturing into the area at our own risk and that public-safety personnel would not be available to assist us in the event we needed help.
With that in mind, I accepted responsibility for myself and headed south. The prize photo that morning was a shot of the nearly demolished OC fishing pier at the inlet. Almost every one of my clients was screaming for a photo. After passing the barricades south of 17th Street, Ocean City turned into a surreal landscape almost never seen before in the resort town.
It took a lot of navigation through rarely traveled alleyways and driving the wrong way down Baltimore Avenue to arrive at the south end of Ocean City.
Boardwalk benches that weigh hundreds of pounds were strewn all over the place, including on Baltimore Avenue. Other than the OC fishing pier, those uprooted benches were the pivotal Ocean City image for me in terms of the awe-inspiring power of Mother Nature.
Other than minimal property damage, the effects of Sandy on Ocean City were mostly limited to flood-water damage and storm surge. Upon reflection, the Ocean City Public Works Department has to be one of the most efficient departments in
all of government. They worked tirelessly to get Ocean City open again, and their efforts were swift and effective. Ocean City was spared a direct hit, but all were reminded how even a close-passing hurricane can wreak havoc.
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